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    Gonzaga students visit Arizona and participate in Prayer Run for Oak Flat

    Mr. Dominic Pugliese, history teacher, teaches Lakota History and was one of the main organizers for the Gonzaga trip to Arizona. Photo by Will Decker/Photo II

    Native American history and culture is an amazing part of America that often goes unnoticed. Native Americans have been persecuted for hundreds of years and their culture has been beaten down, and people have tried to wash it away. However, the culture of the native people is crucial to American history and must be looked into. Gonzaga participates in the celebration of Native American culture by offering a Native American history class, as well as a Native American Cultural Appreciation Club. The Native American Cultural Appreciation Club focuses on bringing awareness to injustices faced by Native Americans as well as celebrating the culture and incredible traditions that have been practiced throughout the duration of the native culture.

    The Native American Cultural Appreciation Club recently made a trip to Brophy High School and Phoenix with a handful of members and leaders: Mr. Dominic Pugliese, moderator and history teacher, Will Decker, sophomore,  student organizational leader, Mr. Patrick Welch, English teacher and Brophy alumnus. 

    The club made the trip out to Phoenix to participate in the Prayer Run for Oak Flat. 

    Oak Flat is the land that mining conglomerate Rio Tinto is threatening. This potential project to mine copper might destroy a circle with a six-mile diameter of land which would cripple highways, the environment around it, and the ground that the Apache tribe holds sacred,” Decker said. 

    Many Native American tribes, as well as others who support the cause, gather for the race. This year, the groups came together as one to pray and run about 60 miles of trail running across sacred land. The run took place over three days. 

    “On the first day, we started at a memorial of The Ruins of Old San Carlos. That night we started singing, praying and dancing to 18 songs that lasted for over two hours. Then, in the pitch black, it was time to run,” Decker stated. 

    Although the prayer run is rather far from the Gonzaga campus, the Native American Appreciation club represented how the Gonzaga community is not bound to Eye Street.  

    “[A] robust and emotional connection to the issue motivated the other guys and me to push for this trip,” Decker stated. 

    The Prayer Run for Oak flat is not a normal run performed by marathon athletes. The goal of the run is not to accomplish an athletic feat in as little time as possible. The run takes place over the course of about four days and has many times of prayer and reflection.  

    “The next day we started running early. Again, we ran in increments. We ran to the reservation border before the group stopped and reflected on the history of the U.S. government, concentrating natives on the reservation,” Decker stated. 

    One is supposed to think deeply about the land they are covering and try to gain a connection to the land. The participants of the trip ran through  “deep pits the mining had already taken its toll on while we ran on the side of the mountain” according to Decker. This helped the people running to see for themselves the impact of the mining project. 

    The runners were also brought to mining towns and taught about the oppression of the Native American people. 

    The Native American Culture has a great connection with the land and a lot of the traditions and customs in the culture revolve around the land. Covering great distances of sacred land and praying between intervals is a perfect way to honor the land and the native culture. 

    While participating in the run, the Gonzaga students and leaders met up with friends from Brophy Prep. The students from Brophy prep came to Washington, D.C. last semester to do  Native American advocacy work at the Capitol and stayed with Gonzaga families while doing so. The reunion and brotherhood displayed was an excellent way to spread the love of Gonzaga before the event started.

    The team had a lot of time for self reflection and many opportunities to connect to the nature around them. A greater appreciation for nature was gained on the run by the team; many described it as a life-changing experience 

    “Overall, the experience was sublime,” Decker stated.

    No one slept inside during the run; the groups slept in tents under the stars, reaffirming the connection with the land. The boys truly immersed themselves into the native way of life as they slept on the land, took in the land and worshiped the land. This allowed them to gain a new perspective, an understanding of why the Native Americans cared so much for this land that is now at risk.

    “ I thought the trip was very successful. When the guys from Arizona came up to D.C. they stayed with D.C. families. This established a good relationship with the school down by Oak Flat. This is a good relationship that will hopefully flourish and foster the Native American club for years to come,” Mr. Devon Leary, director of diversity, said. 

    The trip allowed the club members to gain a new perspective, an understanding of why the Native Americans cared so much for this land that is now at risk.

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      Carol CorganMar 28, 2023 at 10:10 am

      Great article, Jack. It’s impressive what Mr. Pugliese, Mr. Welch, and the students did in participating in the Run!